Mastering Dubstep - Bass Weight Insights

Every so often a new form of music is brought to the masses, in many instances the new music is born from the wider genre title, dance music, electronic beat based music that is played in clubs and predominantly listened to by young people in the nightclubs of the world. This is an article that introduced dubstep as a genre and briefly explains the considerations for audio mastering with the style. Dubstep music is a fairly new form of electronic music which is dance based. It has a focus on deep vibrant bass hooks. Dubstep was originated in London, UK, it is a form of music which has proliferated across the UK and now the rest of the world. It's a music form which grew from the genre of UK G (predominantly speed garage and two-step). The bass focused mix downs can have connection drawn from D 'n' B, a dance music form which appears to have had an impact on some of the dubstep producers.

Sometimes such obvious drum and bass drum patterns would be utilized within the dubstep genre (i.e. the classic amen brother break beat). Dubstep often has a deceptively simple beat pattern to the ear, it sounds quite easy until you as a new producer trying out dubstep try and produce this beat structure. It is more sophisticated and difficult than one might initially think. One aspect that dubstep music cannot be judged for is not possessing enough.... B-line. B-line being the low frequency energy in a production mix. Roots and dub music has always been a bass focused music and dubstep has been developed in the studios of the hard working producers and now musicians in rooms across the world are laying down dubstep beats of differing quality for the globe to listen to, whether on their Reverbnation, Soundcloud or Myspace accounts or via dedicated online record distributors.

"Sub" can loosely be described as audio frequencies below 110Hz. Dedicated musicians use all the digital equipment, synths, drum machines and samplers at their fingertips to create exciting new beats and bass grooves. The common dubstep b-line would be the resonant filter "wobble" synth bass, which almost has a feel of the human voice. B-lines in dubstep often have mid frequency "doubler" synth, they often take up a large section of the audio spectrum in unison with each other. Dubstep, similar to other dance music forms is preferably heard on massive venue systems with multiple, eighteen inch bass bins. Listening to this genre in a venue with a big system becomes a physically moving experience as well as an bass shakingly audible one. It is hard to describe the adrenalin rush of feeling the sub bass that this dubstep genre focuses on. If possible you should attend such a club to experience such bass music culture.

Dubstep is an urban music and has spread all around the UK and globally. Mastering dubstep music takes into consideration some of the less than perfect acoustics of the studios that many producers will find themselves working in. It is advised that producers put some broadband bass traps in their rooms. This will greatly enhance the accuracy of the LF in the room which is used for mixing and mix decisions related to bass will be better informed. As is the case with most cd mastering the audio processing used would typically be top quality analog equalization, analog compression, digital brickwall limiters and other DSP. (Digital Signal Processing) This would be to enhance and improve the frequency balance, level and punch in the music. Many dubstep tracks will be enhanced using analog, high end equipment to minimize some of the harshness associated with "in the box" mixing.This is not exclusive to digital audio workstation based production but there does seem to be a trend of overly forward, upper mid harshness and this can be tiring to the ear at high SPL's (sound pressure levels) and may cause dubstep aficiando's to be fatigued from the music, also compounded by use of MP3 lossy audio compression.

CD mastering for dubstep music is not quite the same as other music forms because of the extreme Sub B-line nature which creates in depth requirements for an engineer who is mastering. The challenges of the mastering job is often related to the ability of any given musician, coupled with the monitoring arrangements that the producer might have when mixing. One such issue is maintaining high perceived levels of sound which is connected with the "loudness war". There is normally some balance to be had with bass levels in the tracks vs the perceived level and distortions which can creep in. If a limiter is applied indiscriminately distortion can exhibit as the limiters short release time can track the individual waveform cycles. It is imperative that mastering studios for dubstep have very clean monitoring arrangements so the distortion can be heard very swiftly. (i.e. Speakers DAC/ADC and amplification)

Preparation of tracks for online mastering:

Stereo master output limiters:

The online mastering studio will be able to push the volume of the music by selecting the best sounding limiter from choice of limiters available at the studio, the one best suited to the track, they all sound a little different. So please remove the limiter "When removing a limiter please check that the music is not hitting the master end stops,overrring,0dBFS,clipping" This can be seen in a number of ways...

1)Your clipping indicator goes red on the stereo output of your master fader in your DAW environment.
2)It is seen by the square topped / flattened waveform if you closely zoom in to a drum transient in the resultant export file.

File formats:

It is best to deliver 24 bit res.aiff or wav as the sample rate of your sequencer.

Extra words on master bus clipping:

Occasionally inexperienced musicians may not know that digital has a finite range of numbers that can define the level of a signal. It is quite common to have a delivery of grossly clipped audio files. Do check your stereo output ensure the mix bus signal is not approaching the end of the stereo master metering. If it is, this is not good, as the finite mathematics in the system is no longer capable of accurately recreating your music.As asking you to remix the music is not practically or reasonably possible, you can pull back the stereo master bus fader as a "workround" compromise so any transients do not hit 0dBFS... (i.e. the end of the stereo meter) -7dB FS is an OK level to hit.

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